The Wax Chandlers Company originated in a 'fraternity', an
association of tradesmen and craftsmen formed for mutual support and
spiritual benefit. Beeswax was very important to fraternities, whose
observances required the consumption of such quantities of tapers, torches
and candles that subscriptions and fines for misdemeanours were often
payable in the commodity. Beeswax candles, the luxury article compared with
tallow (obtained by rendering animal fats and considerably cheaper than
beeswax), were used extensively by the church, court and nobility.
The rise of the Wax Chandlers Company corresponded with the proliferation of trade and parish fraternities in London, and the increasingly elaborate religious ceremonials of the late C14 and C15, 'Proper and seemly funerals' called for enormous tapers and churches and altars were lit all day every day and ornamented with numerous wax images.
In early days tradesmen were known as cirgers (French ecclesiastical candle — cierge) and the label 'Wax Chandler' did not come into use until the 1330's. Sometimes they were simply described as chandlers, although this was more usually applied to tallow chandlers. The original business of a Wax Chandler included different forms of lighting such as torches and tapers; embalming and the preparations for funerals; wax images and mould-making, and wax for document seals and wax writing tablets. The Wax Chandlers were also a minor medical guild.
In 1403 the 'text writers' and bookbinders who made and
sold books and writing materials from fixed stalls round St Paul's Cathedral
petitioned the Mayor to become a guild with the 'lymners' who decorated
books and to have two wardens to oversee their affairs. Later printers began
to join them, in 1567 they were given a royal charter and became a livery
They were empowered to insist that all printers were members of the Company and lived and worked in the City of London. The Charter gave them powers to seize anti l>urn seditious or heretical publications, imprison the offenders and destroy their presses. All books had to be licensed and registered at Stationers' Hall.
Twenty-nine Stationers have served the office of Lord Mayor, including twelve in the last century. The present hall dates from 1673. It is the Company's fourth and stands on the site of its earlier hall, Abergavenny House, which was destroyed in The Great Fire (1666) The north window, given in 1894 by Joshua Butterworth, depicts William Caxton showing his work to Edward IV and his Queen.